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As promised, the pope’s encyclical came out today, so I spent most of my morning reading and processing so I could say something useful about it. (Amusingly, I was recently pre-interviewed for an NPR panel on the topic, but they got spooked when they discovered that I’m a climate skeptic. Such disreputable views are obviously not suitable for NPR. So I had to wait and read the encyclical today, with the rest of the plebs.)
So here’s something you already knew: Pope Francis believes in climate change. Here’s something else you knew: he’s wary of free markets. Despite that, I found it a very enjoyable read. Neither climate change nor free markets were the central focus. It’s more of a meditation on the dehumanizing, technocratic tendencies of modernity. It occurred to me as I was reading that Pope Francis believes in climate change mainly for the same sorts of reasons that conservatives are prone to doom-and-gloom future projections: the progressive disregard for nature has advanced so far that it seems credible to him that the earth is on the brink of disaster.
So, that’s some interesting food for thought. I’ll pull out a few passages that I liked, and invite others to leave whatever reactions they want to share.
Lamenting the fact that the poor are regularly overlooked and underserved, Francis opines that,
(49) This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times this attitude exists side by side with a “green” rhetoric.
He goes on to lambast population control advocates (which was a great pleasure for some of us, who did not enjoy watching figures like Jeff Sachs get a platform at a Vatican-sponsored event):
50. Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health.” Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.
In general, what Francis calls “human ecology” is a major point of emphasis. Multiple times he returns to theme of the hypocrisy of those who claim to champion the environment while ignoring the applications of natural law to human beings, who are even more precious.
91. A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment. It is no coincidence that, in the canticle in which Saint Francis praises God for his creatures, he goes on to say: “Praised be you my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love”. Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.
There is also, of course, some specific environmental advice that most conservatives will find distasteful. On the whole though, it seemed to me like a lot of trepidation leading up to a document in which conservatives can find quite a lot to admire.